In the food world, cauliflower is in the midst of an upsurge. It’s trendy and popular as a diet-friendly substitute for everything from rice and meat to pizza crust. Even Oprah Winfrey has jumped on the bandwagon and recently launched a line of frozen pizzas boasting a crust that’s 1/3 cauliflower. It’s one of her famous “favorite things.”
We think our cauliflower should be the center of attention, too. But it’s much too beautiful to disguise inside a pizza crust where it’s supposed to mimic the all-flour kind.
The incredible diversity and health benefits of cauliflower are nothing new to us. We’ve been saying that since we started growing it in The Chef’s Garden’s earliest days. After thirty years, we’re even more confident in the quality, flavor, freshness and color of ours – and, of course, our cauliflower nutrition. We’d stack ours against anyone else’s.
If you’re going to ride the cauliflower wave, why be like everybody else when you can get seven extraordinarily sweet and nutty varieties in shades of mulberry, creamy white, saffron orange, bright green Alverdale and grape purple? We even grow cauliflower that looks like coral, and a dizzying green multi-faceted fractal called Romanesco cauliflower that would knock old Pliny’s socks off.
It’s not easy harvesting cauliflower. It’s more like a slow and tedious all-day game of Hide and Seek that requires extra measures of patience and persistence. Jose Gomez’s five-man crew walks in single file between the long rows, carefully separating tall leaves to peer inside, hoping for a lucky glimpse of purple cauliflower, or orange, white, bright green or mulberry.
Every broad-leafed, thigh-high cauliflower plant yields a single head. As in one. Single. Head. The plants are roughly 98 percent leaf and stem, and only 2 percent vegetable. Our field team is harvesting cauliflower when the heads are still very young, tender and small – about the size of a billiard ball. At that size, they’re still deeply nestled in the center of their protective parent plants, swaddled snugly inside their tight wrappings of leaves.
Before the first hard frost hits, these guys have 45 thousand plants to harvest. That’s 45 with three zeroes. That’s seven and a half thousand plants per man by the end of the season. On this particular day, they’ll harvest about 500 pounds of what remains in the first planting – it has pretty much given its all. Two more fields are just about ready to go, our team is patiently gleaning its final offerings before moving onto the next.
They work with small paring knives, the size you’d use to peel an apple. First they make a cut to separate the vegetable from the main stalk, and then a few quick swipes to trim the leaves close enough to reveal the treasure inside.
You already know we grow our vegetables slowly and gently in full accord with nature. And that’s exactly how Marco, Rolando, Armando, Victor and a pair of Joses hand-harvest our cauliflower.
It’s one of our favorite things.